As a politics student, please indulge me for a moment whilst I talk politics and give a blow-by-blow account of what felt like the beginning of the end last Wednesday. And how it’s not actually yet game over for us liberals.
In classic American style, the US has gone bigger and better than Brexit and elected Donald Trump as their next President. Deep breaths everyone. The impossible has happened. A reality TV star will hold the world’s most powerful office. I doubt even The Donald himself truly saw this coming. Good old democracy has blindsided us once again.
I stayed up watching the election results roll in live (UK time), with an inadvisable amount of sugary snacks keeping me awake for what I assumed would be a reasonably swift victory for the Clinton camp. “Surely, America, surely you will make the right choice in the end??,” I pleaded at my TV.
But I wasn’t even half way through my packet of party rings (yes, they are a children’s party snack) when Trump took the lead in the vote count. I started sweating but thought ‘Nope, Hilary, you’ve got this. California, Pennsylvania and Florida are still to come!’. But then 2:30am rolled round, I fell asleep at my kitchen table and Trump took an even bigger lead. Upon wakening, a sleep-deprived sugar-induced panic started to take hold of me. I took my phone, playing live BBC coverage, up to bed and propped it up, determined to see this horror-show, even if one eye was asleep. The BBC coverage soldiered on, presented by an increasingly dumbstruck Andrew Neil, a disbelieving Katty Kay and a borderline hysterical stats-spewing Jeremy Vine pacing around a green-screen.
I’d inadvertently fallen asleep some time after 3am and woke up in a panic around 7am in a new, dark world. I wasn’t still having a nightmare. Trump had actually won the election. As one dry netizen so wonderfully put it: “Just woke my kid up and told him that Santa’s dead. I don’t see why I should be the only one hearing bad news today”.
Remember the days when we all thought Bush Junior as President was as bad as it got, between his lust for war in the Middle East and inability to put a speech together? Even Mitt Romney, who once openly pondered why we can’t open windows in airplanes, would be a safer president than Trump. Heck, he even makes disgraced former Italian President Berlusconi and his infamous ‘bunga-bunga’ parties look almost innocuous.
For those of us who hoped for a Clinton victory (even those who voted Clinton with the reasoning ‘anyone but Trump’) have likened the election fall-out to a grieving process. Sure, no one has died but for a lot of young Americans, and foreigners like myself, the next four years they had hopefully pictured are gone and the future looks scary and uncertain. In their eyes, America didn’t make the ‘right’ choice and now there will be serious repercussions for a society that’s increasingly divided.
But the language of the ‘right’ choice and the ‘wrong’ choice is inflammatory in itself. Those who don’t embrace our liberal values are deemed ‘wrong’. Like Brexit showed us, we are now in the era of the secret voter. Society has shamed those who don’t vote for the liberal left (which some say is socialism, or communism, attempting to masquerade as something else), alienated them and forced them to do something dramatic like vote for Trump. France’s Marine Le Pen could genuinely be the next winner.
But there is nothing inherently ‘wrong’ with democracy and the indiscriminate right for everyone to have a say. However, it’s how that say impacts the wider community we all share. In the USA, those who spew racist and homophobic abuse are legally entitled to their opinion. This is difficult to stomach and what makes Trumps victory so bitter. It validates the actions of a growing minority whose words and actions makes the lives of others unbearable.
Our grieving process starts with outright denial. “It can’t be true. Surely no nation can be stupid enough to elect him??” we wail, banging our heads on the table. But it’s happened and we can’t make it unhappen. Even if Trump was to keel over and die tomorrow, Clinton still won’t be President and the Republicans will still be in power.
Then comes anger. We were wrong and we have lost. Not everyone shares our benign vision of a brighter and more inclusive world. Why?? America’s first African-American President will be handing over the White House’s keys to a man who accepted a hearty endorsement from the Ku Klux Klan. We thought society was going in one direction but now a dramatic social U-turn is coming, with the likes of Vice-President-elect Pence trying to push LGBT folk back into the closet.
“But Clinton won the popular vote” we say through gritted teeth, clenching our fists. Indeed she did but the Electoral College has done what all stunningly bad electoral systems do and given their nation a leader who less than half the electorate voted for. Good job, Founding Fathers.
And no, we should not be out-right congratulating Donald Trump and in turn condoning his campaign of hate from the highest offices in the world. Even the impartial BBC couldn’t help but pointedly comment on the lack of congratulatory messages Mr Trump was receiving after his victory became apparent. When the messages did trickle in, they were largely from fellow right-wing extremists, such as France’s Marine Le Pen and Europe’s favourite villain, Putin.
I am not saying that we, the UK, one of America’s closest allies, should alienate the Trump administration before it even reaches Washington but there is a line between retaining political integrity and disregarding the vitriol of Trump. Personally, I think Angela Merkel strikes the right balance in her ‘congratulatory’ message to Trump. A frank warning but room for cooperation.
Acceptance will probably never come for most of us but we have to make the best of what we have, even if that is an orange-faced bigot. Harping on about Trump’s serious short-comings will not change his policies. We have to get our voices heard within the system and trust in it, which is a bloody big ask right now.
But, it’s not all bad. I know, hard to believe. Obama has already protected Planned Parenthood from being defunded by the federal government on political grounds and there has been a wave of private donations to Planned Parenthood since last week. And ‘sanctuary cities’ like New York and Chicago have reiterated their welcome for America’s undocumented immigrants and vow not to bow down to federal immigration pressures. It doesn’t lessen the fear immigrants feel but it is a reminder that they are still welcome in America. (Just today, Trump advisor Kris Kobach, said he was working on a plan to have a registry for Muslim immigrants. Sound scarily familiar? It does to my grandparents).
And let’s not forget the power of elections. Yes, it’s still another four until the presidential election and yes, this time things didn’t go in our favour but in two years time Americans can go to the ballot box again and mark the fiercest of crosses next to Democrat candidates running for Congress. And never underestimate the power of a good petition, protest or lobbying movement.
Yes, the next leader of the free world is a megalomaniac, compulsive liar, sexual predator, racist, homophobe and about as illiterate as a global leader could get. But we won’t become complacent and forget this nor make the next four years easy for Trump. The US Constitution was designed to protect citizens from a tyrannic leader. Trump’s presidency will be its biggest test yet. It’s going to be one heck of a bumpy four years but nothing worth fighting for is easy. The Suffragettes did it and the Civil Rights Movement did it. We, too, can overcome this together. Love will still trump hate.
And like my darling mother innocently remarked: “Well, they got Kennedy and he was actually nice…”. Hasn’t Trump himself proved anything is possible?